When Ibomcha Ningthoujam, a retired scientific officer of the department of atomic energy in Kolkata, was appointed as a consultant for the Manipur Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MCPCR), there was no question of any malpractice on anybody’s mind. It was a question of pure nepotism of the highest order, for the person signing his appointment letter happened to be none other than his wife who was acting in her capacity as the chairperson of the MCPCR. The order was also not signed by the secretary of the Commission as is mandatory for all appointments. The order dated 26 April 2018 was signed by Sumatibala Ningthoujam, chairperson of the MCPCR, under her hand and seal to make it as authentic as possible with copies marked to the minister of social welfare, the chief secretary, all members of the Commission and the member secretary besides the person concerned.

Earlier in the year, when Sumatibala Ningthoujam was appointed chairperson of the MCPCR, it had raised a lot of hue and cry. Being a statutory body, the post of the chairperson ought to have been advertised first and a selection committee formed to oversee applications. Instead, it was an executive order, which appointed her a day after the earlier incumbent had retired. Prior to her appointment, Ningthoujam was president of the state BJP’s Mahila Morcha, a position which she retained for six months after she assumed the office of chairperson.

Peeved with her for occupying the position out of the blue, one of the members of the Commission approached the Manipur High Court challenging her appointment as it had violated all prescribed and established norms. The matter is still pending there. Ningthoujam has a degree in music without any experience in matters related to upholding the rights of anybody, leave aside that of children. And when a complaint was lodged against a staff member of the Commission for inconveniencing girl students of a University, she stood by the erring employee and ensured no harm fell on that person. A highly peeved body of five other members had decided then to boycott her for all official matters.

An RTI query soon followed in which it was wrongly replied that Ibomcha Ningthoujam’s appointment as a consultant was arrived at a meeting held on 25 April 2018 at her chamber. Montu Ahanthem and Keisham Pradipkumar, both members of the Commission, have categorically said that no such meeting was never convened or held. It was also revealed that the wife-husband duo had been representing the Commission at a number of national workshops and conferences related to child rights.

The chairperson who came in from the cold finds herself on a hot seat now. The matter relates to the sexual abuse case of a girl student at Jawahar Navodaya School at Mao in Senapati district in Manipur. Apparently, the principal of the school, one Sanjay Kumar Yadav, had called the student to his residential quarters on the pretext of discussing something related to her then, upcoming board exams. That was when Yadav touched her inappropriately. The startled student pushed him away when he made another attempt to touch her. This happened on 19 January this year.

The girl then reported the matter to her house mistress who told her to keep quiet. Then after a gap of a few days, the house mistress told her to report the incident to regional office at Shillong. The authorities then deputed a three-member committee but a team from the school led by an assistant commissioner of Navodaya Vidayala Samiti recorded the statement of the victim and reported the matter to the office in Shillong. They also passed an order to the effect that no staff member may call or invite any student to their residential quarters in future.

Apparently, the chairperson of the MCPCR had issued a verbal directive to inquire into the matter. The chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee and the District Child Protection Officer said that the victim’s only wish was that the principal be transferred outside the state with a strict warning to not repeat the same offence. Her parents’ views that the matter should not be taken up considering the crucial phase of her academic career was taken into account. It was also observed that the matter was yet to be informed to the police. They ended their observation with the legend that “there is a need to organise awareness programmes on the Juvenile Justice Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 in all schools”.

The matter almost died a natural death till it reached the attention of Soso Shaiza, the Manipuri member of the National Commission for Women. She wrote to Priyank Kanoongo, the chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). Thereafter, the registrar of the NCPCR, Jaganath Pati wrote to the Senior Superintendent of Police of Senapati District asking him to file an FIR and to investigate the matter. It was also pointed out that the assistant commissioner of Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti in Shillong, and two other members of the enquiry team had failed to report the matter to the police. The letter pointed out, “Section 19 of Posco Act 2012 has a provision of reporting offences on having knowledge about commission of sexual offence against a minor child. If any person fails to report the matter u/s 19 Posco Act 2012 such act is punishable under section 21 of the Posco Act.” Ningthoujam was also informed accordingly.

Upon receiving the report, Ningthoujam ought to have informed the police; instead she just forwarded the report to the NCPCR at New Delhi. She thus made herself liable for prosecution under Article 19 of the Pocso Act 2012 for having knowledge of the commission of such an act and failing to report the same to the police. The question now is whether Ningthoujam be made a co-accused in the FIR like the chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee, Senapati, which is also a statutory body. The grapevine has it that a team from Senapati District Police has already questioned Ningthoujam in her office after having issued summons to that effect. The query doing the rounds in the MCPCR is that would the chairperson now consult her consultant husband over the matter as she is not on talking terms with any of the other members?

(The writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman)